Friday, December 20, 2013

Clean, Quality Family Entertainment? You Gosh Darn Better Believe It!

(Image from Deseret Book)

Finding clean, quality family entertainment is not easy these days.  In fact, it's pretty much impossible.  Which is why Studio C, a sketch comedy series produced by BYUtv, feels so refreshing.  When I popped in the DVD of the show's first two seasons, which I received for review the other day, my kids (ages 15, 11, 9 and 5) came running.  Literally.  Even though they had already seen most of the episodes on the DVD, they gathered around and watched them again, laughing uproariously.  For hours.  When bedtime rolled around, they kept begging for just one more episode.  That's how entertaining Studio C can be.  

What is Studio C, exactly?  Think Saturday Night Live with a smaller, younger cast presenting material you wouldn't be embarrassed to view with your toddler or your grandmother.  The sketches parody everyday life in all its hilarious awkwardness.  Although it's produced at BYU, the show does not talk about Mormonism at all—religion is only brought up in a very, very broad sense.  Studio C was created to appeal to the general public.   

The hour-long program airs on Monday nights at 10 p.m. EST/8:00 p.m. MST.  You can also watch it online at www.byutv.com/studioc .  The first two seasons are also available now on DVD.  You'll find all your favorite sketches and series, including "Just Jeremy," "Shoulder Angel," "The Awkwardness Avoidance Viking," as well as my personal favorite, "Captain Literally."  Also included are outtakes from Season 2 and exclusive features.  At around $20 (Deseret Book has the lowest price, $19.99), the DVD makes a fun, affordable entertainment that can be enjoyed by anyone.  Just ask my kids!

In the interest of providing you a fair and honest review of the DVD, I will say that because Studio C's cast is small, the sketches/characters do get a little redundant.  And, of course, some of the sketches are funnier and more clever than others.  For a low-budget show using non-professional actors, though, it does a pretty darn good job.   

To give you a little taste of Studio C, here are two of my favorite sketches. Book lovers will especially appreciate the second one :)



(Note:  I reviewed this DVD as part of a Studio C blog tour run by Kathy over at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer.  I received it for free in exchange for my honest review.)  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Bookish) Things—Part 2

The day before leaving on a big trip is not my favorite.  Not.  At.  All.  I spend the day running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything together and wondering why the heck I thought traveling (with 4 kids, no less) would be a swell idea.  I'm still woefully behind on posting reviews, but that's just going to have to wait—we're hitting the road bright and early tomorrow morning, so I only have so much time today for anything besides trip prep.  I did want to post Part 2 of my favorite bookish things before I disappeared from the blogosphere, though.  I've got my priorities, you see.

Here we go, with four more of My Favorite (Bookish) Things:

1.  I love this quote by Dr. Seuss, especially when painted by Nicole DeFord.  I adore her whimsical style, which you can see on proud display at her Etsy shop, Jelly Bird Signs.  Nicole's fabulous to work with—she's fun, creative and does a beautiful job with all her pieces.  This gem was $30 (plus shipping):


I couldn't get a good picture of my sign (I had her customize mine by changing all the green words in the above sign to red) with my camera phone, so here's the one Nicole uses.  Isn't it the cutest sign?  Wouldn't it make a wonderful present for the book lover in your life (which might just happen to be you)?  Well, it's too late to order one in time for Christmas gift-giving, but who needs a reason to purchase something as lovely as this?

2.  Wouldn't it be nice to have your own, personal proofreader to edit everything you write before you print it off or send it out?  The Grammar Nazis in your life would surely appreciate the effort.  As would your audience, be it a professor, your boss at work, or the fortunate soul who plucks your manuscript out of the slush pile.

Proofreaders, sadly, are quite expensive to hire, especially to comb through everything you write.  So, some very clever folks out in California created Grammarly, an affordable, easy-to-use online proofreader that goes far beyond your word processing program's Grammar Check.  For a monthly fee, you can use it to scan all the documents you write—term papers, office memos, manuscript queries, newsletters, etc.  You simply import or cut and paste the text you want edited, hit enter and let the program do its job.  Within minutes, it will begin highlighting problem areas.  Not only does it show you potential errors, but it also explains the grammar/punctuation/style rules you may be violating.  If you're worried that you might be unintentionally poaching someone else's words, you can use Grammarly's Plagiarism feature to make sure you're giving credit where credit is due.  Another big plus to the program is that it points out stylistic no-no's, like redundant word choice and overuse of passive voice.  It also keeps track of your most common editing mistakes so that you can avoid making them in the future.

Want to try it out for yourself?  Go to Grammarly.com, drag-and-drop some text into the box and, voilá, magic will happen.

Now, the big question is: how much does Grammarly cost?  You can get a 7-day trial for free.  After that, you choose a payment plan that works for your budget—the lowest one offers the program for $11.66/month.  Is it worth it?  If you do a lot of writing and don't have a ready, reliable editor to help you with the nitty, gritty details, then I'd say yes.  It really is a cool thing.

And, to appease the Grammarly gods, here's my attempt at a clever tag line:  I use Grammarly for proofreading because it makes me look smarter (and, believe me, I need all the help I can get)!

(P.S.  Although Grammarly is sponsoring this post by paying me a small fee, the opinions expressed are honest and my own.  I tried the program for myself and was impressed by its functionality.)

3.  Another of my favorite bookish things is my local indie bookstore, Changing Hands.  It's in Tempe, which is a bit of a drive for me, so I don't get there very often.  When I do, though, it's always a pleasant experience.  Not only does the store offer a great selection of new and used books, but it also hosts lots of fun events like book signings, writing workshops, and holiday events for the whole family.  The employees are knowledgeable, the store offers nice discount/frequent buyer incentives, and Changing Hands does a lot to give back to the community.  It's a wonderful business for many, many reasons.  

Because the Tempe store is so popular, Changing Hands plans to build another one in central Phoenix (not the East Valley—boo hoo!).  Store owners launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project and recently reached their goal of raising $80,000.  Fundraising continues through December 24th, so if you want to contribute to a worthy cause this Christmas, consider this one.  You can also get fun merchandise when you donate, including T-shirts, tote bags, greeting cards, etc.

Here's the video Changing Hands created to announce the project:

 

4.  Since we're spending Christmas in the Motherland (that would be the Columbia River Gorge in Washington/Oregon, where I grew up) this year, we decided to do our own little family Christmas celebration before we leave.  On Monday, we had a nice dinner, read the story of Jesus' birth, discussed the "gifts" we've given Him this year, and then opened the presents under our (dry and dying) Christmas tree.  I was thrilled to find this, a present from my always-thoughtful mother-in-law, waiting for me:


It's a beautiful cookbook full of yummy-looking recipes that I can't wait to try out.  Anyone have a favorite?

So, there you have it, some bookish things that I've been lovin' on lately.  How 'bout y'all?  Any fun, bookish things caught your eye lately?  Don't keep your discoveries to yourself—I'd love to hear all about them!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Never Re-Read Books (Except This One)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I rarely re-read books.  Almost never.  With so many great new stories out there just waiting to be cracked open, why waste time going back to one I've already experienced?  That's my usual philosophy, but sometimes, I get a hankering to re-enjoy an old favorite.  Like Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird.  It's been a long time (high school?) since I first read and loved it, so a re-reading was long, long overdue.  And, you guys, I'm so glad I took the opportunity!  I swear, everything about this book touches some part of my soul.  It's just a beautiful, inspiring, charming story—one that will never get old, no matter how many times I read it.  

I'm not even going to attempt any deep literary analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird.  That's been done many, many times, and by people much more knowledgeable than I.  So, let me just encourage you to read this one, whether for the first time or the twentieth.  It's an incredible novel, the kind that should be studied in schools and revered worldwide (oh wait, it already is ...).  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Time to Kill by John Grisham)

Grade:  



If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, racial epitaphs and references to rape

(Incidentally, the classic 1962 movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird is Not Rated.)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought To Kill a Mockingbird from Amazon using a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.   


Thursday, December 12, 2013

New E-Short Not Terribly Original, But Who Cares? It's Tempe!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bones in Her Pocket, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Temperance Brennan mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

If you read this blog with any frequency (and I sure hope you do!), my undying love for anything Temperance Brennan ("anything" actually doesn't include the tv show Bones) does not surprise you in the least. So, naturally, when I heard that Kathy Reichs, the creator of  my favorite forensic anthropologist, would be publishing an e-novella starring Tempe, I knew I had to read it.  

Except for the length, Bones in Her Pocket acts just like any other book in the Tempe Brennan series, pitting the intrepid scientist against an unknown killer in a tense, action-packed forensic mystery.  And, while this newest story doesn't advance any of the subplots relating to our heroine's personal life (darn it!), it does relate another exciting adventure in her professional one.

In this episode, Tempe is called out to a remote artists' colony near a mountain lake in North Carolina.  Bones have been discovered inside a water-logged, fly-infested canvas tote bag.  Animal bones, she figures.  Except they're not.  The remains belong to a young woman fitting the description of Edith Blankenship, a missing graduate student.  Did Edith's passion for saving the lake's birds get her killed?  Did she step on the toes of the wrong eco-radical?  How did the ebullient student end up in a watery grave?  Using the bones as her guide, Tempe's determined to find out.  Before she ends up sharing Edith's fate. 

While Bones in Her Pocket is pretty much the same ole, same ole as far as Tempe Brennan books are concerned, I still enjoyed it.  Reichs just knows how to pull me in with colorful characters, intriguing mysteries and, of course, with the further development of the already empathetic and likable Tempe (book Tempe is VERY different from t.v. Tempe, by the way).  Her adventures—even the brief ones—will always interest me.  

FYI:  Bones in Her Pocket is only available as an e-book.  For just $1.99, it can be purchased at either Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes.

(Readalikes:  other books in the Tempe Brennan series [Deja Dead; Death Du Jour; Deadly Decisions; Fatal Voyage; Grave Secrets; Bare Bones; Monday Mourning; Cross Bones; Break No Bones; Bones to Ashes; Devil Bones; 206 Bones; Spider Bones; Flash and Bones; Bones Are Forever; Bones of the Lost]

Grade:   


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence and gore

To the FTC, with love:  I bought Bones in Her Pocket with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Bookish) Things—Part One

Sorry for the radio silence here at BBB.  That's what holiday busy-ness, plus a 4-day trip to the (freezing cold) Midwest, and now a nasty cold will do to a blogger!  Thanks to the *lovely* weather (actually, it was lovely—it's been a while since I've seen falling snow), I spent even more time in airports and on airplanes than I thought I would, which means I got more read than I thought I would.  Which also means that I am even more behind on reviews than I was before I left town.  Ack!  I'm not sure I'll ever catch up.

Since I'm already procrastinating on the reviews, I thought I'd give you a little something different today.  I've never understood why "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is played so much at Christmastime (something to do with the "brown paper packages tied up with string," I assume), but the title works well for this post.  I've been meaning to tell you about several of these items for a while now, so I'm just going to combine them all into two posts of bookish awesomeness.  Sound good?  Well, alright then, here we go:

1.  Not long ago, I entered a giveaway over at Mommy's Reading Break and won this cute little block stacker.  Isn't it adorable?  I had my choice of stackers, but this one seemed most appropriate.  It sits on my desk, making me smile every time I look at it.


Heather sells all kinds of stackers in her Etsy store, Rutherford Wood Designs.  She's got Christmas themes, sports themes, family themes, etc.  The stackers are very affordable, running between $8 and $14.  They'd make great Christmas gifts, so be sure to check out the store.

2.  Have you all heard about SwoonReads?  It's a new website run by Macmillan that allows authors of YA romances to publish their manuscripts online and lets readers browse titles and leave their feedback about the books.  Those entries that get the best response will be considered by Macmillan for publication.  Cool, right?  I'm going to let Stephanie Moore, an author from Utah whose book, A Flutter of Butterfly Wings, is up on the site right now tell you a little more about this very cool program:

Hello my fellow bookies! I’m Stephanie and am excited to be visiting here today.  A little about myself, I’m a SAHM with four awesome kids, three boys and a baby girl. I love reading and often find myself in the YA section. Aren’t some of the best stories those where characters are coming of age, figuring out who they want to be and finding their first love?                                                                                                                                    
My other passion is writing, which is what brings me here today. As I was finishing edits on a YA manuscript, I ran across an article talking about a new imprint from Macmillan Books, Swoon Reads. What caught my attention is that it utilizes crowdsourcing to find manuscripts to publish. So writers upload their finished works and readers come and read, rate and comment on them. The highly ranked manuscripts will get read by the editorial staff and could be chosen for publication. It’s the American Idol of the YA publishing world.                                                                                                                                                                                                 As a writer, I am so excited for this because it breaks down so many barriers that lay in front of an unpublished author. In a conversation I had with Jean Feiwel, the Publisher of Swoon Reads, she said she wanted to tear down the barriers so deserving manuscripts can more easily be found and it gives them a better pulse on what readers want to read.                                                                                                                                Have you ever wanted a say in what books get published? Now’s your chance! It was recently announced the first book selection will be made in February so head over there and let your voice be heard before February 1st. After an easy sign up (literally only 5 spaces to fill out) you can read as many manuscripts as you want, absolutely for free.                                                                                                                                                  Yay for free good reads! So come take a look, let your voice be heard, for good and bad, and help an unpublished author realized his/her dream. Like yours truly, my manuscript, A Flutter of Butterfly Wings, is up there right now. (http://www.swoonreads.com/m/a-flutter-of-butterfly-wings)                                                                                                                        To sign up and start reading today, go to: http://www.swoonreads.com/sign-up.                                                                                                                                                                 Thanks for having me, Susan, and for creating such a great blog that brings all of us bookaholics together. 
 Cool, right?

3.  Remember back in the summer when I was bragging telling you all about my new bookshelves?  Remember how I promised to post a picture and then didn't?  Yeah.  Better late than never, right?


Obviously, this isn't the best picture, but trust me, my bookshelf is a beaut!  It's 9 feet high and 12 feet wide.  It holds lots of review books as well as others from my personal library.  I'm not going to tell you what percentage of the books on the shelf are review books because that would just be embarrassing!  And, yes, I'm well aware of the irony of displaying a sign (it's on the top, center shelf) that says "Simplify" on a bookshelf that holds 1000 books or more.  Yeah.

So, what bookish things are you loving lately?  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

If It Weren't For Those Weird, Awkward Scenes ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With the threat of nuclear war hanging in the balmy air, the summer of 1962 feels unlike any other.  Scott Porter spends the long, school-free days doing what he's always done—playing baseball with his friends, spying on girls, trying to stay out of trouble—but the 11-year-old goes home to alarming newspaper headlines and hissed, heated discussions between his parents.  To the endless amusement of their less-paranoid neighbors, Scott's dad has built a bomb shelter for his family.  If worse comes to worst, the Porters will have everything they need to survive underground for two weeks, the time it will take for the radiation-saturated air to clear.  Scott hopes there will never be a need to use the shelter, but as global tension intensifies, he can't be quite sure there will be a tomorrow at all.

When the unthinkable happens, Scott finds himself crammed into the shelter, not just with his family but also with six of his disbelieving neighbors.  The supplies Scott's father stocked can't last for long, not with ten people using them.  And civility's running out even faster.  As the days wear on, the shell-shocked refugees must learn to survive—not just whatever happened in the outside world, but everything that's taking place inside the crowded shelter.  With tempers flaring, food being rationed, and cabin fever taking its toll, busting out of the shelter is looking better and better.  No one knows what's happened to the New York they left above ground.  Do the terrified shelter-dwellers dare to emerge?  What will they find if they do?  Which will kill them faster—radiation, starvation or each other?  Scott's about to find out.

Everything about the premise of Fallout by Todd Strasser appeals to me.  An imminent apocalypse?  Check.  Neighbors pitted against neighbors in a desperate bid for survival?  Check.  A tense, psychological examination of people's actions in a time of crisis, told from a child's point-of-view?  Check, check.  Because, apparently, I have a warped sense of what is entertaining, I really, really wanted to read this book.  So, I did.  Is the story as fascinating as it sounds?  In a word: yes.  Fallout tells a tense, compelling tale that kept me burning through the pages to find out the fate of the survivors.  If it weren't for some weird, awkward discussions about naked women (including the boys' mothers), I would have really enjoyed this one.  Given those odd scenes, plus the fact that Fallout is (naturally) quite depressing, this novel turned into just an okay read for me.  Ah, well.            

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other books about groups of people struggling to survive crises in enclosed spaces like Trapped by Michael Northrop; The Compound by S.A. Bodeen; and The Diary of Anne Frank; also of Countdown by Deborah Wiles, which is also about the Cuban Missile Crisis)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo and mature themes

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Fallout from the generous folks at Candlewick Press.  Thank you!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: A Bookish Gratitude List


With Thanksgiving only a couple of days away, it's natural that this week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish) subject would be gratitude.  It goes without saying that I'm thankful for the usual things—a happy marriage, healthy kids, goodly parents, food on the table, etc.—but since this is a book blog, I decided to stick with the subject and tell you about the Top Ten (Bookish) Things For Which I'm Thankful:

1.  Books That Make Me Laugh:



2.  Books That Make Me Think:





3.  Books That Make Me Swoon:



4.  Books That Make Me Cry:



5.  Books That Make Me Appreciate My Not-All-That-Important-in-the-Grand-Scheme-of-Things Problems ('Cause, You Know, Things Could Always Be Worse ...):



6.  Books That Inspire Me:



7.  Books That Make Me More Empathetic:





9.  Books That Fuel My Imagination:



10.  Books That Make Me Fall In Love With Reading—Again:




How about you?  What are you thankful for this year, bookish or otherwise?

As much as I adore books, I'm most thankful for you, my readers.  You make this "job" so much fun!  I love your comments, your support, your kind words, and your enthusiasm for reading.  I'm also thankful for the authors who work so hard to write books for impatient, demanding readers like us to adore.  I'm especially grateful for those writers who trust me to review their literary "babies"—and don't hate me when I point out a few flaws.  Without all of you, this blog wouldn't exist, let alone thrive.  Thank you so much for going along with me on this crazy, exciting adventure.  I hope you'll stick around for a long, long while.

Happy Thanksgiving!  

* All images from Barnes & Noble

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fortunately, It's Another Drop of Quirky Goodness from Gaiman

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If his children ran out of milk for their cereal, most fathers would just tell them to eat toast.  Or eggs.  Or pancakes.  Or fruit.  Or just about anything that didn't require a trip to the store.  Not the dad in Neil Gaiman's new children's book, Fortunately, the Milk.  He heads right out to save the day.  Well, breakfast, at least.  

Of course, the story wouldn't be any fun if the dad simply drove to the store, picked up some milk and came home (even if he grabbed a dozen doughnuts to go with it).  And, considering the author of this little tale, we know it's going to be—above all—fun.  So, instead of encountering minor troubles like traffic jams or rude drivers or inflated prices at the supermarket, this heroic father faces off with ferocious aliens, a burbling volcano, and a bossy pirate queen.  To name just a few of the hurdles in his quest to save his children's breakfast.  After all, it is the most important meal of the day.  The big question is:  Can he do it?  Or are his kids doomed to eating their cereal with, gulp, pickle juice?  No child deserves that terrible fate ...

As you can probably tell, Fortunately, the Milk is everything we've come to expect from the always quirky Neil Gaiman.  The tale's outrageous and silly and fun and just a delight all around.  Most of all, it explains one of the great mysteries of the universe—why do parents take so long to complete a task as simple as bringing home a carton of milk?  Kids will be mesmerized by this short, funny adventure (made even more amusing with illustrations by Skottie Young).  It might just entertain their parents, too.  Unless, of course, they're out fighting otherworldly creature in order to save their children's breakfasts.  Then, it might hit a little too close to home :) 

(Readalikes:  Nothing I can think of ...)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Fortunately, the Milk from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

Friday, November 22, 2013

What's the Most Difficult Kind of Review to Write? This Kind.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jaycee Draper will be forever haunted knowing she received a text for help from her estranged best friend right before she died.  A text Jaycee never answered.  Now, plagued with guilt and remorse, she's doing the only thing she can to help her former BFF—she's looking for answers.  The police have declared 16-year-old Rachel Sanchez a victim of a random act of violence; Jaycee knows better.  Discovering a trail of clues Rachel left for her only confirms Jaycee's suspicions.  Rachel wanted to tell her something, something important, something about who killed her and why.


Part of the puzzle, Jaycee knows, has to do with a terrible encounter the two friends experienced in an old, abandoned house.  It's a night both tried to block from memory, a time to be forgotten, never discussed.  Jaycee hates reliving that nightmare, but she knows she must.  It doesn't help that someone's intent on stopping her little investigation.  And will do whatever it takes to end her inquiries, especially as she gets closer to discovering the identity of her friend's killer.  Can Jaycee solve the mystery before it's too late—not just for Rachel, but for herself as well?

It's tough to diss a book when you request it from an author (who also happens to be related to a friend of yours), she gladly sends you one of her last copies, and is just super sweet about the whole thing.  This is the hardest part of reviewing for me—wanting to be honest without offending kind, hardworking authors.  It's most important, though, for my readers to trust me, so here we go with the honest-even-though-I-don't-want-to-be review: 

I really, really, really wanted to love Dead Girls Don't Lie, Jennifer Shaw Wolf's second novel.  But I just didn't.  Since I grew up in a small town in rural Washington State, I did like the book's familiar setting as well as the conflict between Mexican migrant workers and small-minded local yokels (not that I like that kind of conflict, I just like that it's fresh, something I haven't encountered before in YA lit).  It's a current kind of problem, one I observed firsthand while growing up; it's a hot topic even now, especially in states like Arizona (my current location), which border Mexico.  The whole gang plot, though, seemed a little too melodramatic for rural Washington.  It didn't ring very true to me.  I also had a problem connecting to the characters in Dead Girls Don't Lie.  None of them struck me as particularly likable.  They didn't seem to like each other much either, as I felt little warmth between any of them.  Add that to a far-fetched plotline with some big holes, and yeah, this one just didn't do a lot for me.  Wolf's got lots of potential, though, so I'll keep an eye on her.  Hopefully, her next venture will be a little more to my liking.

(Readalikes:  I'm sure there are many, but nothing's coming to mind ...)


Grade:
  
If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Dead Girls Don't Lie from the very generous Jennifer Shaw Wolf.  Thank you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Crash! Boom! Bang!: McMann's Visions Series Just Keeps Getting Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Bang, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Crash.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Now that things have gotten back to normal (whatever that is) for 16-year-old Jules Demarco, she should be happy.  Especially since her new normal includes being Sawyer Angotti's girlfriend.  He's the guy she's been dreaming about forever, the guy who helped her make sense of her terrifying visions and stop a deadly car crash.  So what if both the Demarcos and the Angottis are dead-set against their relationship?  Romeo and Juliet made it work.  Um, yeah.  

If only that were the only complication facing the new couple.  It's not. Not by a long shot.  Through some cruel twist of fate, Jules has passed her psycho vision-seeing powers on to Sawyer.  Now he's wracked with terrible glimpses of a shooting so horrific he can barely talk about it.  Jules knows there's only one way to make Sawyer's waking nightmares, which are reaching a fever pitch, go away—they have to use the clues in the visions to stop the tragedy from happening.  But making sense out of the confusing scenes isn't easy, especially when the constant examination of them is taking such a heavy toll on Sawyer's psyche.  Jules hates to torture the boy she loves, but if they don't solve the puzzle soon eleven people are going to die.  They can't let that happen.  They won't.  No matter what the cost.   

Lisa McMann knows how to write action-packed, addicting novels.  That's an undisputed truth.  Her skill's especially apparent, though, in her Visions series.  Crash kept me thoroughly engrossed and salivating for a sequel.  I'm happy to report that Bang does not disappoint.  Not at all.  It's just as compelling, just as exciting, just as pulse-pounding as its predecessor.  Jules' pitch-perfect voice makes the series all the more enjoyable, as she manages to be funny, endearing and sympathetic all at the same time.  Is it too early to start begging for another sequel?  I think not.

(Readalikes:  Crash by Lisa McMann; also her Wake series [Wake; Fade; Gone]; and a bit like The Body Finder series [The Body Finder; Desires of the Dead; The Last Echo; Dead Silence] by Kimberly Derting)

Grade: 

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, sexual innuendo/content and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

With Nothing Fresh or New to Offer, It's Just Another So-So Teen Vampire Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Being human in a world ruled by vampires isn't quite as hellish as one would think.  Not if you follow their rules, anyway.  But Allie Sekemoto's never been keen on doing what she's told, especially not when obedience means offering herself as a "blood cattle" to her thirsty leaders.  She'll die rather than kow-tow to the smug, powerful vamps.  Even if survival in the Fringe means scavenging for food, fighting off rival gangs and hiding from rabid, feral vampires.  

Then, the unthinkable happens and Allie has to make a life-altering choice.  As she slowly turns into one of the creatures she hates most, she'll have to learn to cope with the requirements of her new identity, including drinking human blood.  Angering a group of ruthless vamps doesn't make things any easier.  With enemies stalking her every move, Allie will have to find her place—and fast.  Before her fang-dripping comrades destroy everything, and everyone, she cares about. 

If the plot of The Immortal Rules, the first book in Julie Kagawa's popular YA vampire series, sounds a bit familiar, that's because originality is really not its strong suit.  It's pretty much the same as every other YA dystopian/horror novel out there.  Without fresh, vivid prose or vibrant, unique characters, this one just doesn't bring anything memorable to the genre.  It's action-packed, that's for sure, but, at 504 pages, the novel definitely starts to feel very, very long.  I'm not going to lie, The Immortal Rules kept me turning pages.  Still, nothing about this one stands out as new or different.  In the end, I found it to be only a so-so read.

(Readalikes:  the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence/gore and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, November 18, 2013

Disturbing Courtroom/Family Drama Not Perfect, But Decent

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Scandals aren't something that usually happen in the small town of Arbor Valley, Michigan.  So, when a popular high school math teacher gets arrested for criminal sexual conduct against a student, the news sends waves of shock throughout the community.  Especially since the victim, 17-year-old Morgan Monetti, insists T.J. Hill is no criminal, that their relationship was entirely consensual.  Hill agrees he's innocent, just not for the same reason.  He claims Morgan's a disturbed, obsessive young woman who's making up stories to get attention.  Who's telling the truth?  That's the million dollar question.

Morgan knows how she feels about Mr. Hill.  What happened between them wasn't just real, it was special.  And she'll defend him to her dying day.  She doesn't care if she loses every friend she has, alienates her parents, or gets bullied at school—she's standing by her man.  Morgan's always been told she's "mature for her age" and "an old soul," so why won't anyone take her seriously like the adult she knows herself to be?

No matter how defiant her daughter's been lately, Dinah Monetti refuses to believe Morgan's anything but the unfortunate target of an older man's manipulation.  She'll see T.J. Hill jailed if it's the last thing she does.  In the meantime, Dinah has to keep her cafe running somehow, worry about her twin sons, and deal with her husband, an assistant principal who's terrified of losing not just his reputation, but also his job at the school.

Rain Hill can't believe her loving husband's been accused of such heinous acts against a child.  He'd never do such a thing.  Would he?  Rain knows her staunch determination to have a baby despite multiple failed attempts has driven a wedge between her and T.J., but she still knows—and owns—his heart.  Doesn't she?

A heated courtroom battle will decide T.J. Hill's fate.  As the fight rages on, three women will launch their own quests for truth.  Questioning themselves and those they love will bring heart-wrenching revelations, life-changing decisions and mind-bending arguments about guilt vs. innocence, maturity vs. naivete, and childhood vs. adulthood.  Only one thing is guaranteed:  none will come out of the situation unscathed.

By now, you're probably thinking the premise of The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle sounds a little ... disturbing.  You'd be right.  The novel examines an uncomfortable subject, for sure.  And while it does it thoroughly, I'm not sure it does it satisfactorily.  I think my reluctance has to do with T.J. and Morgan, neither of whom really earned my sympathy.  Neither were particularly likable and yet, I definitely cared about what happened to them, if only because of Dinah and Rain, the characters with whom I did feel empathy.  The story's compelling, though, so much so that I had trouble putting it down.  It's also depressing and lacking in subtlety.  Perfect, the book is not; still, it's engrossing, thought-provoking and a decent read overall.  

(Readalikes:  The story format reminds me of a Jodi Picoult novel; the subject matter recalls Defending Jacob by William Landay; House Rules by Jodi Picoult; and Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois)

Grade:  


      
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), sexual content and depictions of underage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Whole Golden World from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!
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